PULLMAN – The chief of police of this college town said he understands why Washington State coach Mike Leach may be frustrated with the number of assault investigations involving his players, but the chief denied that Pullman officers go out of their way to target Cougars.
Chief Gary Jenkins, who was traveling in Florida, told The Spokesman-Review today that he read the comments made by Leach on Tuesday alleging that his players have become the victims of profiling following the arrests of starting safety Shalom Luani, linebacker Logan Tago and another investigation into allegations that a player kicked a student so hard that he broke his jaw.
“How in the world can only football parties be guilty in events depicted like this?” Leach said on Tuesday. “It is irresponsible to this town, this community and everybody to have some kind of a double standard where we only focus on one demographic, one group of people and then drag their name through the newspaper with a bunch of irresponsible comments.”
Leach went so far as to say that the profiling was worse than the allegations of assault made against his players, noting that police have arrested only his players in incidents that clearly involved others.
But Jenkins, who came to Pullman in 2010 from Claremont, California, said he takes pride in making sure his officers do their jobs correctly and treat everyone the same.
“I don’t take (the comments) personally. I am sensitive that my staff might,” Jenkins said. “I just want to make it clear that my staff hasn’t done anything wrong in any way. But I completely understand where coach Leach is coming from.”
In response to the growing controversy, WSU athletic director Bill Moos said he supports what Leach said. But, he added that he and WSU president Kirk Schulz are expected to meet Thursday with Jenkins to discuss the relationship between the university and the police department.
“I think (Leach) said what he felt and is protecting his players. I’m fine with that,” Moos said. “I think there is merit to a lot of what he said.”
Asked Wednesday whether he would prefer local police to look the other way when dealing with his players, Leach said, “Next question,” before ending the news conference.
Jenkins had a quick answer to whether his officers are unfairly profiling WSU players. He said his officers followed the evidence, especially in a small town where everything done by players, good and bad, gets noticed.
“That impact is not lost on us,” Jenkins said. “When we do conduct these investigations that involve athletes, we take them very seriously. That’s why we do take some time with them to ensure they are professional and thorough.”
The investigation into Tago began on June 4 when a 23-year-old man alleged he was approached by a group of men who demanded his beer. When the victim declined, he was assaulted and suffered a concussion, Jenkins said.
But Leach said he wanted to know why Tago’s arrest for felony assault and robbery didn’t surface until four months after the incident.
Jenkins said the victim could not identify his attacker. The investigation later identified Tago as a suspect and Tago initially told investigators only that he was there when the assault and theft took place. Investigators then had trouble re-interviewing the victim, which added time to the investigation.
“Detectives interviewed (Tago) a few times. He made some admissions but no confessions as to his involvement,” Jenkins said. Tago “ended up admitting to physically assaulting the victim and taking his property. So, those are reasons why those cases took a longer period of time.”
As for the implication that Leach didn’t know about the investigation, Jenkins said his officers always inform the WSU athletics department whenever any player is under investigation for a crime.
“I don’t believe any of our staff told coach Leach directly,” he said. “It’s very possible that the information was not passed along to him.”
Moos also indicated that he was unaware that Tago was under investigation. “That one was a surprise to me,” he said, adding that the communication break down could have come within his own department.
Leach also complained that Luani was the only one arrested in what sounded like a fight involving as many as six other people.
Jenkins said video of the incident Aug. 24 at a local Domino’s Pizza showed that several people were “chirping” at Luani, who was complaining about the time it took to get his order, but that Luani assaulted a victim by “violently” pushing his head toward a wall.
“There is a disagreement about what happened outside. There is a possibility that Luani sustained a concussion,” Jenkins said. “But if Luani was struck outside, it could be seen as a fight he initiated.
There were obviously more subjects who were involved.
“The witnesses we have were essentially associates of the person who suffered the broken nose,” he continued. Their statements “are relatively consistent. (Luani) did speak to us. He really didn’t provide a lot of information other than that the subjects assaulted him, but that he could not identify who assaulted him.”
Leach also complained that the July 23 brawl that resulted in the broken jaw of student Alex Rodriguez involved 100 people.
Jenkins said investigators have talked to more than 60 of those at the party trying to gather information.
“Our preliminary investigation was that there were two football players responsible for those injuries,” Jenkins said. “I would agree with coach Leach that there are other actions going on that are mitigating.”
Jenkins said he understands the pressure of a Division I football program seeking to get resolution to investigations as coaches try to focus on the work to prepare football games. He said investigations to all three incidents have been forwarded to the Whitman County Prosecutor’s Office.
“Our priority is a thorough investigation and sometimes that takes time,” Jenkins said. “To me, these latest incidents, I would consider them an anomaly from what we have seen from the players of these coaches.”
Moos said he would not suspend any players for arrests. “But once they are charged with a felony … they won’t be participating.”
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